Skate or Die: A Tale of Toxic Masculinity

It was the year 2001 and I was watching tv in my dorm. Really, it was married student housing at the University of Utah, because that is a thing there, and I was married. It isn’t BYU but Utah is still Utah.

So I get a knock on my door and it’s this guy, Brooks, who I knew, but we had never hung out. “Hey we were just wondering if you wanted to go longboard with us?” I didn’t quite understand the question. He must have seen this on my face because he quickly explained, “See we have two guys and two boards, but we need a third to drive so we can see.”

The extra explanation had a direct correlation to my confusion. I looked outside over his shoulder to some other guy, who I reeeally didn’t know. He nodded hello.

It was late January and late evening, maybe 7 or 8. I looked back inside at my sofa, at the tv, and still not having any real idea of what they were asking, I shrugged my shoulders and said “cool”.

Riding in the Volkswagen bus up into the canyon they explained to me that the idea is that two people ride the longboards, which I confirmed were just long skateboards, down the canyon, with the bus following right behind to both block any traffic from coming up behind, as well as to light the way ahead with the high beams.

“Cool. So you want me to drive. Got it.”

“Well yeah, but we figured we could just take turns ya know. Like we just thought a third would help us all get in more runs.”

“Ah. Cool. Thanks man.”

This is where I finally realized what we were doing. These dudes had me at the top of a canyon, in winter, at night, with intentions of riding a skateboard down the mountain.

I was terrified. This was not, nor is it, the sort of thing I do. I hadn’t been on a skateboard since I was in elementary school and part of why I stopped back then, was that I have never been a physical risk taker. I don’t like falling down on hard surfaces or doing things for fun that involve risk, or really, any high level of skill, because I don’t have that.

But, I was, and I fear at times still am, a bit of a bro, and what this means is that while being mortally afraid, which I was, I also thought this sounded kinda cool, which by itself would have never been a good  enough reason to get me to consider a nighttime death ride. But you see, I didn’t really know Brooks that well. He was just this guy with Geek Sheik glasses who lived downstairs- but here he was acting all casual, asking me if I wanted to do something death defying like it was no big deal. Knocking on my door like the only concern was whether or not I had something else planned that evening.

Which I didn’t.

And like I said, the bro in me was more afraid of confessing to a dude I didn’t know well, that I was afraid, than I was of riding down a mountain on a plank with no brakes. That’s messed up. I hope I’ve grown since then, but at this point introspection is a tangent when the point is recollection, and retelling the action.

So when it became clear I would be riding a board, I just shrugged and said, “Cool.”

It wasn’t till I was standing outside in front of the headlights, with a board in my hands that I worked up the nerve to ask honest questions.

“So like, how do I slow down? Or, ya know, stop?”

“Well you just sort of carve back and forth across the lanes and that should keep your speed in check for the most part. Then, If you start to pick up too much speed you just sort of jump off. Like point the board off to the side of the road  so we don’t lose it and just hit the ground running.”

I dropped the board on the ground, gave it a small nudge, hopped on, then hopped right off to practice.

“Yeah man you got it!” they sort of stated, not quite a cheer but definitely an encouragement, and most definitely a “let’s get this show on the road.”

So we did.

I pointed the board down, and pushed off for real this time.

I wasn’t sure if the rumblings were vibrations from the blacktop, or me shaking, but I was moving.

I leaned left, then right, a couple turns, then afraid to even get to second gear,  I jumped off. It worked just like they said. The board sort of skipped and rolled into a snowbank and I just kinda bounce jogged right after it. Brooks did the same.

Alright alright alright… maybe this will work.

We pushed off again and I things started to change.

I started to feel it.

This was the moment, the time I began to enjoy the experience, when I also realized that I was at least twice Brooks size and we were playing with gravity. I had outpaced my wingman and consequentially the headlights, by about 50 yards and I was not slowing down.

I thought I should bail. I should do it now. But I was right there- just past my comfort level. Juuuust a bit too fast, so I started to think up a plan B.

I started eyeing the snowbanks on the side of the road. Falling into snow, even going fast, is no big deal, and here I was with huge snow banks, glowing in the night, on both sides, ready to catch and preserve my life.

Knowing I was going to crash, but I would live, I relaxed. I decided to do what I never do, and just sort of go for it.

I leaned in.

Looking up I could not just see into the void, but I could feel myself moving through it. I felt the road rumble up through my feet to my knees but there it melted into waves. By the time it hit my hips, then my shoulders, and finally face it was all just cool wind. It whipped through my hair and forced my cheeks up into a smile.

I loved it.

“Twas bliss.

Then the snowbanks disappeared.

Replaced by a guardrail.

Travelling at an unholy speed down an ungodly canyon my only saving grace was replaced by a device meant to damn the progress of those in danger- but now promised to be my destruction.

The rail was on a curve. I tried to take it, leaning in and whatnot, but I could not.

The board went one way and I went the other. Suspended in the air I started my feet and legs running, proving my previous doubts of Wyle E Coyote’s experience wrong, and just like he, I did eventually fall. I touched down with one foot.

Then the other.

But my top half was faster and I tumbled.

It is natural, though not advisable, to put out one’s hands when falling. Especially on pavement.

I was picking said pavement out of my palms for the next two weeks and it was at least four months before I could bear a push-up.

When I returned home that night my wife informed me of a post mortal truth, that at the gates to heaven there are two lines. The first; is full of cancer patients, martyrs, those who died in righteous acts, and innocent children. The second, is full of stupid white people who died doing things like hang gliding.

She went on to explain that she would be in the first line and had no intentions of waiting for me if I wasn’t.

That was a long time ago and I have grown. I am not dead, we are still married, and I may still have hope.

Hunting Season and Menswear as Punishment

Mom could always sew and her skill kept clothes on our back. Dad could hunt and his skill kept food on the table.

Them in 80’s. Not the 1880’s… the 1980’s.

She was making him a nice navy jacket. We called such clothing church clothes and Dad would look quite respectable in this piece. As she sat at the machine threading needles he went off to the woods with some friends.

As the tale gets retold, and knowing what I know of my father, I’m sure the hunting party’s staying out through Sunday was a surprise to dad. Perhaps a truck got stuck in the mud on Saturday forcing them to stay the night.

Mother suffered his lingering over the Sabbath in silence and finished father’s gift.

When the jacket was presented to Dad he found that the lining of the coat was hunter’s orange. It would be rude of him not to wear it and when on, no one could see the blinding insides. But when sitting in the pews, if Dad felt the desire to put his arm around his wife, the Bishop behind the pulpit would get a fluorescent flash from Dad’s jacket reminding everyone of my father’s transgression.

Happy hunting everyone.

Them playing dress up.

Business Travel

The girl at the table next to me is having a smoke. She has on thick black framed glasses and her hair is shaved close to her head on one side. She is sitting by herself breathing out mustiness and slowly turning the pages of her oversized fashion magazine.

Flowers and potted plants separate our tables from the bejeweled old ladies and jacketed men as they pass on the sidewalk heading into the Fox Theatre. The marquee is all lit up with flashing lights announcing the ballet, a play, or a concert of some sort. I can’t tell which is playing tonight; I don’t care enough to look that close.

I have been sitting here long enough that the sky has gone from blue to black and the tall buildings have gone from bustling to blank. The windows on the higher  floors have stopped reflecting the sunset, turned to electric light, and then turned off. It is not quite nine.

It is warm enough that the men who jog past go shirtless, no matter their physical condition. I’m not sure if I should be impressed with their boldness or appalled by their lack of self awareness. Either way I make a mental note to remind my future self, the one who eventually gets in shape, to keep his shirt on. I’m sure that if he should forget, plenty of people will remind him.

I’m guessing most of the joggers come from hotels, like me. Those strolling, dressed for an evening out come from parking lots. A man carrying groceries in a wheeled cart hints at local city living till he makes a right turn in front of me and heads into the Hotel Indigo. He is not local, just frugal.

I am lonely.

Not the sort of lonely where you hunger for company, the kind of lonely where you miss someone specific. Lonely may be too strong a word, bored is better. There is plenty of entertainment walking in front of me, lots of talkative sales reps and convention goers at the bar inside, but I want that person here with me that I can kick under the table, tip my head toward the guy wearing the moon vest, and she will know what I mean without me saying it. She would laugh. She wouldn’t be laughing at him, she would be laughing at the tv episode from two years ago. That is what I miss.

The girl at the next table has stopped smoking and started talking on her phone. They are at the wrong bar. She will meet them there.

There is now a man three tables down smoking a cigar. He has on a logoed polo shirt and khaki shorts. He is not watching me watch him, he is watching his smartphone. Groups of three or four walk past and at least one of them is always watching their phone.  LED lit faces and palms walking down dark sidewalks ignoring the people right next to them.

I do it all the time. Its like whistling or shaking your leg under the table; you do it without thinking. I add phone stairing to my future self reminder list, then, in a moment of honesty erase it.

If I sit here long enough my mind will wander; to religion, the two papers I have half written on my desktop, and people I know who are having trouble finding jobs or paying the bills. But then I will notice someone wearing a bow tie or realize I’m whistling three lines of the same song over and over. Then I remember the insurance forms I was supposed to fill out. It is too late to do anything about it tonight other than loathe myself and cross my fingers I remember tomorrow.

The cigar man is gone. I can’t remember when my flight leaves tomorrow so I stare into my LED lit palm to look it up. Someone across the street thinks something is funny. I go back upstairs and pack.

Tales From the Road

I found myself sitting in an Italian restaurant in Atlanta Georgia, not an obvious pairing.  At the table sat a truck driver in his late 30’s, a service technician who calls a Tennessee farm his home, a 20 something year old who married the daughter of a large company’s owner, myself of course, and then there was Ron.

Ron is approaching the age where most men retire.  He owns some land in Ohio where he shares a place with his girlfriend.  At this home he used to park a truck.  A nice truck.  He loved that truck.

The Tennessee man, sometime after appetizers were served, with a half grin on his face, asked, “Hey, Ron, where’s your truck?”  To which Ron responded by rolling his eyes, and then looking over both shoulders, as if someone should help him out.  The rest of us had no idea what was going on.  “Well I believe that man still has it,” he eventually offered.  Ron squirmed in his chair as the rest of us looked back and forth between he and Tennessee.  This time with a complete smile, the technician motioned wide with his hands and said, “Aren’t you going to share?”  So Ron did.

“Well (Ron starts many a sentence this way), I got this truck for work.  I thought it would be good to have something reliable and besides, I was taking on an apprentice and I just figured that it would be easier if I let him use the truck for work.  Thataways he could just meet me at the site and I wouldn’t have to pick him up all the time.

So the second day we are working together I show up and he isn’t there.  Now mind you this is about a day’s drive out so I don’t think too much of it and I just wait.  After waiting about three hours I call his phone and I get nothing.  Two hours after that I finally get him and he says he’ll be right there he just got behind.  Now by this time it’s late so’s I just tell him to meet me the next day.

He didn’t show up that day so I did the work and went home.

The next week He did it again.  On the third job I said to him that we were to go to a place that was hard to find so we should just ride together and I went and picked him up.  We met up and I said something about wanting to drive that truck so we both got in it and we took off.  Now we hadn’t said anything about the other times, and I wasn’t sure what I was gonna do so I decided to stop and have some breakfast.  I told him to get whatever he wanted when we sat down, and we ordered, and then he goes to the bathroom.  Three hours later I’m still sitting at the table by myself.  I can see the truck sitting in the lot, I have the keys, and now I’m getting worried.  I look in the can, walk around outside, and there is no sign of this guy.  I’m worried because we are hours away from anywhere and I don’t know how he’s going to get home.  Well, so I went and did the job and drove home.

The next day I go with my girlfriend so I can pick up my other truck where we had left it.  When she hopped out to drive it home I started to go through the new truck to see if he had left anything.  He had so I packed it up and sent it to Tennessee in the mail.”

We were amused by this tale and looked over at the technician for the resolve to this yarn.

“I don’t know why Ron sent it to me (Ron shrugged his shoulders at this as if he didn’t know either), but All I know is a get a box with a burnt tin can, a crack pipe, and a rock.”

The table erupted in laughter, the truck driver nearly falling off his chair.  We caught our breath as best we could, and went about chatting and eating lasagna.  Every now and again the truck driver would giggle and shake his head.  During one such instance he caught himself short, looked serious, then looked at Ron and asked, “So who has the truck?”

“Well, my girlfriend has a son who is kind of a bum.  He stays with us sometimes but he just can’t keep it together.  I comes home one day and the truck isn’t there.  I’m beside myself because I can’t find who took it.  I call, and I look, so eventually I call the police.  I do a report and all and a couple days later the Sheriff calls me and says, Ron, you aren’t going to like this.  We sold your truck.

I don’t even understand what he said so I ask what he means and he explains; well, the bank had to repossess it because the payments weren’t being made.  Once they got it back they sold it at auction.  That was a week ago.  Now I’m sore and say I can’t be late on the payments cuz I paid cash money for that truck.  To prove it I go back into my files to get the title and the title isn’t there.

Turns out this guy, my girlfriend’s son, broke into the house, got the title, had the title changed to his name, notarized and all, then went to the bank and got a loan on my truck.  Now he hasn’t even got the keys, the truck is sitting in my driveway till the day the bank repo’d it from my house when I wasn’t there.  So all this time I’m looking and he’s out spending my truck money and someone else is driving the truck.”

At this point we are all doing our best to stay in our chairs and keep our meal from not being laughed back out onto the table.  Ron is just shrugging his shoulders while the truck driver is hugging him and thanking him for the best dinner conversation he has ever had.

We stumble from the restaurant back to our cars; me to my van and Ron to his old truck.  The truck driver hasn’t had a drink at all that night but has to be helped to the car, still doubled over with laughter.  I looked over at Ron and asked what he ever did about the truck.

Ron shrugged his shoulders, “Nothin.  The cops took him off but that’s their business.”  With that he got in the old truck and headed for Ohio.